Friday, July 13, 2018

Facing the Talent Shortage Head-On with Apprenticeships

By: Elliot Forsyth

Having skilled, competent employees is key to an organization’s success. This is no longer easy for manufacturers to come by, however, as a massive talent shortage has emerged in the industry in recent years, leaving many jobs unfilled and tasks undone. It is expected that this talent gap will result in millions of positions remaining vacant in the years to come, a number that will only continue to grow if nothing is done to counteract this trend.

To provide solutions, we must first understand the roots of the problem. Many issues and challenges have combined to create the perfect storm for manufacturing jobs, including:
  1. Silver Tsunami. The large number of baby boomers retiring each year, also referred to as the “silver tsunami,” has been anticipated for years, yet it is still a main contributing factor to the talent shortage. These experienced workers continue to leave the workforce at an increasing rate, taking their skills with them and leaving behind vacancies that cannot be filled easily. Decades of experience in manufacturing cannot be taught to new workers overnight, making it nearly impossible to sufficiently fill the voids these workers leave behind.
  2. Industry 4.0. As new and interconnected technologies, commonly known as Industry 4.0, continue to grow in the manufacturing world, more and more manufacturers are having difficulty keeping up with the latest trends. In addition to trying to understand the vast amount of innovations currently on the market, manufacturers face the added challenge of finding talent with the skills and education necessary to operate such technologies. Industry 4.0 calls for a new kind of worker, with more advanced and more specific skills than previously needed for a career in manufacturing, adding to the gap in talent needed and talent available.
  3. Education and training. The issue of insufficient training and education has contributed largely to the skills gap facing manufacturers. From lack of interest in STEM career paths to lack of awareness about career opportunities available to lack of proper training for those interested in pursuing a manufacturing career, it can be difficult to prepare the students of today for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow. 
At this point you may be asking yourself, “How can we close the skills gap?” I recently published a blog offering one answer to this problem: education reform. There I explained how Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), are working to gather insights and recommend changes or additions to college courses to better target the skills gap and prepare workers for current manufacturing job requirements.

Another solution is apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are one of the most effective, proven ways to directly train and retain workers while shrinking the talent shortage. As most processes in manufacturing involve detailed protocols and a deep understanding of equipment, it is crucial that all workers have comprehensive training in order to be successful. Placing students directly on the factory floor with experienced employees providing guidance can eliminate challenges associated with poor training. Implementing on-the-job training for students not only provides them with valuable hands-on learning experiences, but connects manufacturers with future workers.

Additionally, apprenticeships provide manufacturers with a way to invest in the future of their company and their employees, giving them a solid foundation and room to grow within their organization. Investing time and effort in training and developing staff through apprenticeships can boost your company’s desirability, helping workers to envision future growth and career opportunities in your company. This can support employee retention efforts, as well as attract outside workers seeking to grow their skills. Ultimately your organization can become a company of choice that is recognized for its commitment to developing the next generation of manufacturers.

Want to start your own apprenticeship program? Come to a free info session hosted by Automation Alley and The Center to learn more about how to implement a registered apprenticeship program in your facility. Held from 9:30 am to 11:30 am on Tuesday, July 24 in Plymouth, speakers at this event will answer the following questions:
  • What is a registered apprenticeship program?
  • Why should my company consider implementing this training model?
  • What resources are available to get started?
Methods such as apprenticeships and education reform are two proven ways to combat the talent shortage. Although it will take years of combined efforts from the government, schools and manufacturers to successfully address this skills gap, steps such as these can go a long way in raising the next generation of manufacturers.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.





Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, June 22, 2018

What Does a Food Safety Plan Really Consist Of?

By: John Spillson

In 2011 President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law, bringing about the most sweeping changes the food safety industry has seen in 70 years. This introduced the Food Safety Plan (FSP), which is the primary document that guides your Preventive Controls Food Safety System. While the ‘why’ of the FSMA has been publicized quite extensively, not as much has been explained about the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘when.’

To answer these questions, we must first start with ‘what’ it is in order to understand ‘who’ should be involved and ‘how’ to comply, as well as ‘why’ you’d want to. Previous food safety standards were mostly reactionary, while the new movement puts its focus on prevention through risk-based analysis. The focus of the new FSP lies in the prevention of hazards throughout the process. The FDA is granted more authority to offer guidance and assess fines and fees, as well as order recalls (which had previously been left to individual companies). Food processors also are now tasked with incurring more inspections, increasing record keeping and monitoring supply chains.

The crux of the FSP can be summed up in two words: preventive controls. Preventive controls are specific to a facility and product, taking into consideration the severity of a hazard as well as its likeliness of occurring. The process of preventive controls begins with understanding the food safety pyramid (not to be confused with the food group pyramid). As seen in the figure below, the foundation of every FSP should be well-written and effective Prerequisite Programs (PRPs), current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). Quite often preventive controls will exist in these foundational programs.
HACCP and HARPC plans, the next level on the pyramid, rely on solid PRPs, cGMPs and SSOPs in order to be effective. Only after these robust standards are in place can you consider a Global Food Safety Initiative-recognized scheme such as SQF, BRC or FSSC 22000. Having a solid understanding of the four categories where hazards may lie – physical, chemical, biological and radiological – helps develop the game plan for preventing these hazards from occurring.

The three big takeaways here are to identify, prevent and document. Identify the potential hazards or risks by considering their severity as well as likeliness to occur. Prevent and/or control the identified hazards through a proven or documented successful means. And finally, document, document, document. There must be a record of how an identified risk is controlled. If it’s not written down it didn’t happen. Recall plans also are an integral part of an FSP. Names, numbers and contact information must be readily available in order to contact the Reportable Food Registry, regulatory officials, impacted customers and even the public. It is best for food processors to think of themselves as food safety companies that happen to produce food.

Now that we know what it is and how to comply, we should explore who must be involved, and when they need to be compliant. New to the food safety acronym world are QI and PCQI.  QI, or Qualified Individual, is the name given to the person in the facility who performs a task. It doesn’t matter what the task is, as long as the person doing it has been adequately trained in performing that particular part of the process.

Second, and the true manager of the FSP, is the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual, or PCQI. The PCQI holds the most important role in the FSP: to develop, write and maintain the FSP. They must verify and validate the preventive controls as well as establish corrections or corrective actions when there has been a deviation from the FSP. This individual also needs to reevaluate the FSP every three years (or after any recall or significant change in a process). In order to become the company’s PCQI, an individual must either have adequate knowledge or job experience to develop and apply a food safety system, or complete a PCQI certification course.

In terms of who this applies to and when you must comply: Unless your company is so small and have been given an exemption, you’ll need to have an FSP, complete with a recall plan in order to sell your packaged food in a retail setting. Food processors with sales above $1M and more than 500 employees were required to comply by September of 2016, while small processors with fewer than 500 employees had to comply by September of 2017. Very small processors, those with sales below $1M, must comply by September of 2018.

FSMA brought forth many challenges and new ways of thinking for food processors, bringing benefits as well for safely producing food products. The old days of being reactionary now have been replaced with progressive, forward-thinking methodologies that aim to eliminate or control known hazards.

At The Center, we often work on-site with food processors to improve their efficiencies and make lasting changes. Additionally, we offer a one-day Fundamentals of Food Processing course that touches on FSMA/PCQI requirements and responsibilities, as well as the only recommended course to certify PCQIs. To learn more about these courses, or to register for an upcoming class, contact inquiry@the-center.org or call 888.414.6682.


MEET OUR EXPERT
John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John works to develop and expand the food program at The Center. His experience operating his own business has given him knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. John comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, following both parents and grandparents in operating their own family food businesses. Prior to joining The Center, John owned and operated his own food processing company for more than 20 years. He loves helping food processors almost as much as he loves food itself.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stop Risk Before Risk Stops You: 5 Steps to Effective Risk Management

By: Roger Tomlinson

All successful project managers have one crucial ability in common, which ensures their projects never get derailed or end in disaster: effective risk management. This essential aspect of managing projects involves identifying, assessing and responding to potential project risks. Mastering risk management can improve your project management skills overall by guaranteeing your project is delivered on time and on budget, every time.

Looking to take your project management skills to the next level? Start with understanding project risks. Project risks are any elements that might affect your project. Although these risks could potentially have positive implications, they are generally associated with being negative. These risks can lead to any number of problems for your project, from your team not having the manpower or skillset required to complete a task, to critical raw materials not being available in the timeframe required.

Unchecked risks also can result in larger issues with following your schedule, meeting quality requirements or staying on budget. If not managed correctly, project risk can make it harder, or even impossible, to successfully deliver your project.

So how can you safeguard your project from disaster and keep it on track for success? The answer lies in creating a risk management plan. Read on for five steps to establishing a flawless risk management plan to set up your project for greatness.

Step 1: Identify the Risk
The importance of identifying and tracking risks cannot be understated. Building awareness of as many risks as possible will heighten your chances of successfully avoiding or managing risks. Creating a risk register, or list of potential project risks, can help you get a step ahead of all potential risks before they become problems. Your risk register forms the basis of your risk management plan, establishing an ongoing list of any risks that might impact your project. Hint: Lessons learned from past projects can be used to inform current risk registers. This list also should be maintained throughout the project lifecycle, as risks can appear and disappear as your project progresses.

Step 2: Assess the Risk  
Once risks have been identified, you must determine the associated cost of risks compared to the cost of mitigation efforts. This requires estimating how much a potential risk could cost the organization based on its probability, detectability and severity. Measuring risks in this way can ensure that everyone involved has a clear idea of what might happen, and what might be lost, if any of these risks arise.

Step 3: Plan Responses
What if these risks do arise? You should have an appropriate response plan in place for each potential risk.

Generally, there are four response categories that all risks fall into, which determine what you can do to address and manage a project risk. They are:
  • Avoid: Change your plans to dodge the risk entirely.
  • Transfer: Outsource the risk to a third party to manage the issue.
  • Mitigate/Reduce: Reduce the impact or likelihood of the risk.
  • Accept: Take the chance of a risk occurring.
Although unlikely, it is possible that some of your risks might have positive outcomes. For example, you might be at risk of selling so much of your product that a capacity issue arises. While this does have positive implications, it is best to plan for this type of situation in advance to avoid any related issues.

In the event that such a positive risk occurs, potential responses include:
  • Exploit: Ensure that the risk occurs to realize its positive benefits.
  • Share: Work together with a third party to achieve an opportunity associated with a risk.
  • Enhance: Increase the chance of a risk occurring to achieve its benefits.
  • Accept: Take the chance of a risk occurring.
Based on these categories, you can decide which response is best suited for the risk at hand. For example, you might decide that the risk of a bus driving into your office is something you’ll simply accept, as it isn’t very likely to happen. However, the risk that food poisoning takes out half of your workforce is something you will have to actively mitigate by ensuring all catering staff is properly trained.

Once the response is established, risk owners can be appointed to carry out each risk management action plan. Completion of this step demonstrates that you have thought through all potential risks and put plans in place to reduce uncertainty on the project.

Step 4: Implement Mitigation
Now that risk owners have been appointed, they can be held responsible for completing the necessary tasks for managing any open risks.

Reporting on the mitigated risks will help your management team see that you are serious about future-proofing your project against problems, while also providing mitigation plans to look back on if similar risks arise in the future.

Step 5:  Risk Monitoring
Once the risk management plan is finished and put into place, with risk owners, plans and risk registers actively at work, you will have to continually monitor all results throughout the duration of your project.  These reports also can be used as communication tools to keep all involved personnel aware of risk management outcomes.

Risk management can help any project run smoother, while further enforcing your creative and strategic capabilities as a project manager. By determining risks and actively managing problems before they happen, you can set yourself apart as a successful project manager and ensure you are prepared for any problem that might be thrown at you.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, June 8, 2018

There's Nothing Artificial About This Intelligence: How to Get the Facts You Need to Know

By: Shelly Stobierski

While “artificial intelligence” is a trendy buzz term in manufacturing today, there’s another type of intelligence that offers you a valuable strategic advantage: competitive intelligence. This method of market research is based on using tactics to continuously monitor the market and gather information to help your company keep up with the latest innovations, trends, competitor news, potential customers and a wide range of information that is meaningful to your operation.

Regardless of company size, type or budget, your business will benefit from an increased focus on what's happening in your industry and its potential impact on your growth and success. This is now more true and important than ever as newly introduced technologies and practices continue to change the manufacturing landscape at a rapid pace.

When faced with the daunting task of monitoring and implementing the latest innovations in the industry, many manufacturers choose to postpone their own implementations and instead watch competitors adopt technologies first. However, those who choose to take this “safer” route risk falling permanently behind as the market continues to advance without them. Fortunately for manufacturers, there are a few basic options that can streamline the process of continuous monitoring and make such improvements possible for companies of any size.

MYTH: Competitive Intelligence is Too Expensive for Me
With the right tools, competitive intelligence can be catered to your needs, your schedule and your budget. For example, setting up a “listening post,” or an email alert that gathers online content related to certain keywords, is one easy and free way to monitor the market. These keywords can be aimed toward something as broad as market news, or as specific as finding project proposals to connect with potential clients. You have the flexibility to decide how to use these alerts to boost your performance.

MYTH: Competitive Intelligence is Too Time-Consuming for Me
An added dimension of flexibility comes with deciding how often to receive these emails. When setting up your alerts, you are given the option to decide how often or infrequently the emails should be sent out so as not to overwhelm your inbox. This allows you to manage how much time your competitive intelligence research will take up each week, tailoring it to your own schedule.

It should be noted that your monitoring should not end after just one day of research. While it can be beneficial to gain a single snapshot of the industry, your company will get the most valuable information and insight from engaging in continuous monitoring of the market. After all, new technologies are introduced to the market each day. Although your company does not have to change as quickly as the industry itself, it would be helpful to start taking steps toward better and more competitive business practices with methods such as these – before the industry leaves you behind.

Monitoring the market using competitive intelligence should be a tactic that is as common as monitoring your machinery, inventory levels and budget. As noted above, it does not have to be overwhelmingly time-consuming or expensive. Simple tools can help your company gain a competitive advantage, identify opportunities and threats, and generate new business opportunities. All it takes is the desire to improve.

To learn more about how to empower your business with competitive intelligence, contact The Center at inquiry@the-center.org or call 888.414.6682.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Shelly Stobierski
Director of Research Services

Shelly Stobierski is the Director of Research Services for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. She has more than 15 years of market research experience, the first 10 years with a primary focus on automotive-related manufacturing businesses. Shelly has extensive skills in survey research (phone, internet, focus groups) and in the use of proprietary industry databases. Prior to joining The Center, Shelly spent five years as a research analyst for a turnaround firm conducting secondary research with databases such as LexisNexis, Capital IQ, and IHS Automotive forecasts. That was preceded by seven years working in various levels of project management at leading primary research firms.





Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, June 1, 2018

How Football Can Help with Auditing a Process-Based QMS

By: Andy Nichols

An important requirement of ISO 9001 (and its “cousins,” AS9100 and IATF 16949) deals with internal quality management audits. One purpose of this internal audit program is to look at the processes within the quality management system. Common questions that internal auditors raise during this practice include, “How do I audit a process?” “Which processes should I start with?” and “How will I know if the process is effective?”

Starting at a very basic level, a process can be defined as “activities that transform inputs into outputs.” One might add to this definition that the activities occur “under controlled conditions,” since we usually prefer to be able to predict a (good) result or output! From this definition, we know a number of things already about any process, including that they have:
  • Input(s)
  • Output(s)
  • Activities
  • Controls
This is helpful to start with, but heading off to do an internal audit with only four topics on a checklist is unlikely to help us reveal if a process is working as intended. Auditors must build from this list by developing a better understanding of what is needed for a process to deliver a satisfactory outcome - for both the organization and its customers.

Most business processes have some form of goal or objective assigned to them, which can be focused externally on customers’ needs or internally to the organization. These goals make it so that performance and success can be more effectively measured. If the process is working effectively, it’s by this performance criteria that an auditor can tell what is being achieved.

In addition, it’s desirable to produce a consistent result; therefore, the process must be under control. Most of us know the wailing sound (output) a loudspeaker makes when a microphone (input) is placed too close to it – that’s called feedback! You can certainly measure the sound level using this practice, but the process is out of control! Our business processes need controls to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

Process controls may be accomplished in many ways, including:
  • People – competent, aware and trained
  • Equipment – capable and maintained (calibrated, if necessary)
  • Methods – procedures and work instructions (as necessary, under document control)
  • Materials – approved, available, identified, etc.
In listing these controls, our gathering of audit topics has grown quickly – but it’s not finished yet. We must also consider some other necessary controls, including documentation controls, non-conformance, records generated from the process, corrective/preventive actions and improvements.

The challenge with preparing for any audit is figuring out the sequence in which to place these so that we can gather useful information about the process, rather than just compliance-based facts. After all, arriving at a machining cell and asking for records of maintenance before you have established what product is being made, how many, and so on, will not reveal much useful information.

To make this process of planning an approach easier for auditors, a number of visual metaphors have been developed. One unique approach that has proven successful in helping auditors to organize these topics into an appropriate sequence – or “game plan” – is called the ‘Football©’.



Using this football-shaped tool to ‘visualize’ the path an internal auditor should take when auditing has a number of advantages:
  1. More comprehensive planning so that all relevant controls are considered, and in their correct sequence. The above example can be easily applied to a manufacturing process. It also can be tailored to fit the structure of audit checklists or questions. This allows information to be gathered and used later to verify performance. This football diagram can assist an audit manager with ensuring the assigned auditor(s) do the relevant research of those requirements and controls so that they develop a better understanding of them before the audit interviews begin. The auditor then has a ‘bigger picture’ to audit and is therefore more likely to identify systematic issues.
  2. Better equipped to evaluate the results of the process when compared to what was planned to happen (not just the transformation of inputs). Auditors are then able to identify places within (or supporting) the process that could cause the plan not to be achieved (scrap, rework, downtime, etc.). 
  3. Better time management through adherence to audit scope, etc. By populating the various ‘bubbles’ (in the example above) with the details of the organization’s management system and/or customer requirements, etc., the auditor is able to get a clearer understanding of the expected outcomes. They are then more capable of identifying where supporting processes are effective, without having to follow multiple “trails.” It is often easy for an internal auditor to be ‘drawn off track’ when evaluating these other criteria and controls (depicted by the football’s laces) that can affect a process – calibration and training, for example. The football can assist auditors in defining the ‘boundaries’ at which point they must decide to return to the normal process flow.
Conducting process-based internal quality management system audits can be an overwhelming task for many auditors. As a result, it is common to have compliance only-based reports (“we did/didn’t follow procedures”) instead of confirming effectiveness of the process. The use of a planning tool like the football to map out an auditing strategy leads to far more effective – and efficient – audits and helps the auditor focus on validating the results of the process to the goal.

Learn more about how to use the football diagram when planning for any process-based QMS audit at The Center's upcoming free Explore event on June 26 from 8:30am-10:30am.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Andy Nichols
Quality Program Manager

Andy has 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. In addition to his ISO 9000 Management Systems experience, he has worked extensively with ISO/TS16949, ISO/IEC 17024 and ISO/IEC 17025. His broad practical knowledge of ‘Quality Tools’ includes: SPC, FMEA, Quality Circles, Problem Solving, Internal Auditing and Process Mapping. He also has been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor.





Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Is Lean Six Sigma Right for You?

By: Anna Stefos

A few weeks ago, The Center’s Brian Mamo wrote about great food pairings as a way to define the combination of “sales” and “marketing” into “smarketing.” An equally dynamic pairing provides manufacturers with valuable tools for reducing waste and improving quality as well as efficiency: Lean and Six Sigma.

What Does “Lean” Mean?
Coming from the Toyota Production System in Japan in the 1990s, the Lean methodology aims to eliminate anything that does not add value in a given process by targeting variation and defects. With an emphasis on standardization, the goal of Lean is to eliminate variation caused by human operators to improve both quality and efficiency in a factory. A variety of Lean tools, from 5S to Kaizen to Value Stream Mapping, can be used to identify and measure production problems, implement standard systems, and continuously monitor production to automatically know when an issue arises. Due to its ability to maximize profitability and eliminate waste while increasing value for the customer, Lean has become a widely-used methodology among manufacturers of all sizes.

The Six Sigma Side
Six Sigma was originally introduced to the United States in the late 1980s after proving its success at Motorola. Six Sigma is a statistical approach to diminishing variation in production, with the goal of achieving no more than 3.4 errors per one million opportunities. This method of analysis targets true process variation – rather than man-made variation – to improve things like process yield, down time, etc. This is accomplished by identifying the underlying causes of issues in production to eliminate defective processes and ultimately improve the effectiveness of business practices.

A Powerful Pairing: Lean Six Sigma
Taking Lean’s focus on adding value and eliminating waste, and Six Sigma’s emphasis on reducing process variation, Lean Six Sigma is created. This comprehensive methodology brings together the best of both tools, combining statistical analysis with standardization to make for the most effective production transformation possible. Although these techniques have slight differences in how they approach problems, they each seek to accomplish the same things: reduce waste and variation in business processes to maximize profit and customer satisfaction.

The application of Lean Six Sigma unfolds in just a few steps. First, Lean principles are applied to identify the eight different kinds of waste in a company’s processes and eliminate them, along with all man-made variations in production. Once these elements have been removed, Six Sigma methodologies are applied to identify any remaining process variations and, from there, reduce defects and improve business practices.

Although many companies utilize Lean and Six Sigma separately, they have more power when used together. Manufacturers who have applied Lean Six Sigma have realized greater and more prolonged impacts compared to using only Lean or Six Sigma. By combining methodologies, workers are equipped with more tools for fixing problems, essentially maximizing the opportunity for improvement. The benefits and effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma have been proven over decades of use, making it a popular management technique and a viable option for your company to consider utilizing in the future.

Mastering Lean Six Sigma: It All Starts with a Belt
When it comes to implementing Lean Six Sigma, having a strong understanding of the central ideas behind each methodology is necessary to achieve success. Recognizing this, The Center has developed a fundamental training course called Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt to assist all levels of an organization in developing the skills necessary to participate in Six Sigma initiatives. This unique, introductory-level course serves as a preface to the Belts of Six Sigma, ideal for manufacturers looking to learn more about Lean Six Sigma or contribute to Six Sigma projects in a supportive role. Those who attend this three-day course can learn how to implement, perform, interpret and apply Lean Six Sigma principles in a skilled, yet limited, context, with a focus placed on the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method and basic Lean Six Sigma teachings.

If you are interested in attending a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt class, or would like to learn more about the offering, view the upcoming course schedule.

If you have already started your Lean Six Sigma journey, view the schedule for our Lean Six Sigma Green Belt courses and other upcoming Six Sigma training.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Anna Stefos
Operational Excellence Manager

Anna Stefos has a diverse background in automotive spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. Anna has a passion for Lean Six Sigma and is a trained Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Tactical Deployment: The Real Strategic Plan

By: Ron Quinkert

Now that we’re five months into the year, it’s safe to say that most of us have long-abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions. Whether we were hoping to lose weight, get better sleep or save more money, we probably forgot about our 2018 missions just about as soon as the new year started. This is not due to laziness or lack of time, however, but because we did not establish a tactical plan for meeting our goals.

Take, for example, the goal of trying to lose weight. If your resolution was to get healthier and shed some weight, but you did not own a scale or establish a workout regimen, it would have been nearly impossible for you to achieve any real results. Without a tangible goal in mind, complete with steps for how to get there and measurements of progress, these visions are useless.

To successfully turn any goal into a reality, you need to understand the importance of tactical deployment. This is the practice of establishing specific and measurable plans for achieving a larger strategic goal (learn more about strategic and tactical planning here).

The significance of tactical deployment is especially substantial when it comes to business planning, as it could mean the difference between your company reaching or falling short of its strategic goals. To understand how tactical deployment can help your company achieve its goals, let’s look at two companies that each had the vision of improving profitability.

Company 1: All Strategy and No Bite
This company places a strong emphasis on creating long-term visions for the company to achieve but does not put any energy into attaching realistic goals or measurements to these ideas. Although they make it a priority to “improve profitability,” there is no established time-frame in which to achieve this, no identified areas to target and no outlined steps in place to achieve this goal. The company continues to operate as usual and hope for the best, with no real plan for how to achieve results. The strategic vision cannot be achieved and is ultimately useless without tactical deployment.

Company 2: Using Tactical Plans to Get Results
This company sees much more success with their “improve profitability” initiative due to their devotion to tactical deployment. Working with this vision in mind, this company develops SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound – that create tangible steps to closely follow in order to realize the vision of improved profitability. With these concrete goals in place to address the when, how, who, why and what of this vision, there is no reason this company can’t achieve the results they’re hoping for.

The First Step to Tactical Deployment
Companies of all sizes and types must tackle tactical deployment if they want to realize true success. Whether your organization is looking to grow the company, improve customer satisfaction or boost profitability, the first step always is to assess your business and understand which areas need improvement in order to reach your end goal.

Need extra help getting started? The Center offers a free Transformation Planner that can help any company identify which areas to target first to ultimately reach their goals. For further assistance, experts at The Center can work with you to decide how to move forward and put an effective tactical deployment plan in place to finally make your company’s visions into a reality.

Learn more about how to successfully reach your business goals at The Center's upcoming free Strategic Planning event on May 15 from 8:30am to 10:30am.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Ron Quinkert
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Ron Quinkert is a Senior Business Solutions Manager with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and has 20 years of automotive sales and manufacturing experience. He works directly with manufacturers in seven Southeast and Central Michigan counties. Ron is a seasoned professional with expertise in team building, automotive product and manufacturing processes, tool design, operational audit practices, procedures and improvements.






Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Automation and the Workforce: Addressing the 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

By: Chuck Werner

Discussions of the Industry 4.0 technologies among small to medium enterprises usually take one of two paths. The first is a politely positive path where everyone ignores the impact these advancements will have on the human workforce. This is what is known as ignoring the “elephant in the room,” where there is an obvious problem at hand, but no one wants to address it.

The other is usually approached more fearfully, as if we were crawling into a cage with a seething Silverback. Down this path, we are often keenly aware of the presence of this “800-pound gorilla,” but we feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. As we see it, the robots are waiting to take everyone’s jobs and we the “people” will be completely displaced.

In each of these approaches, nobody wins. Refusing to talk about something never results in a resolution, while ignoring it out of fear poorly serves both the business and the people who are part of it.

The truth is, there are some jobs where machines cannot compete with a human, and it will be a long while before they can. Frankly, there are some jobs where the cost to automate does not provide a sufficient return on investment to make it worthwhile. Also, robots cannot match the dexterity of a human. Operations that require fine manipulation and sensitivity are still beyond the ability of any automaton. Additionally, many jobs require critical thinking, judgement and the ability to react to unusual outcomes. It is true that analytics have come a long way, but most examples of “artificial intelligence” are still just programmed responses defined by expected inputs. Humans are much better at handling the unforeseen and possess a greater ability to adapt and overcome. Lastly, most people are still vastly superior at interacting with their fellow humans. When was the last time you enjoyed hearing “Press 1 for…”?

On the other hand, there are jobs where automation makes sense. Tasks involving simple repetitive movements, harsh environments, heavy lifting and poor ergonomic positions are prime candidates for the application of robotics. These are often positions where companies have difficulty hiring or in which they see high turnover. These jobs lack the ability to challenge and stimulate the human mind. Other times the low rate of pay offered to perform such simple tasks makes them unappealing. In regions where competition for dependable employees is high, these jobs are not seen as promising enough to entice potential employees to relocate.  Lastly, many millennials are simply not keen on the idea of factory work.

Automation-friendly jobs also include those primarily composed of non-value-added activities. Transporting or moving an object from point to point – or a “lift and tote” job – is one example. Another is sending someone out to collect information or “go and see.” The use of technology and analytics not only provides real-time data, but also presents the information in a usable format to decision-makers without long hours of entry and analysis. Freeing employees from performing these wasteful tasks allows them to spend their time on more value-added functions. It also enables them to perform a function at which the human mind excels: identifying and implementing improvements to a product, process or service.

Some jobs will continue to be performed by humans as much as they always have. Or, they will still be performed by people, but with assistive technology to allow for greater effectiveness and efficiency. And, as time goes on, and technology continues to improve, and the cost to implement it continues to decrease, some jobs will be given over to automation. Ignoring this fact will only put your company at a disadvantage.

There are several things that any business should be doing to prepare for success in these ever-changing times:

The management team should take an honest look at what isn’t – but should be – happening around the workplace. It isn’t unusual for activities like equipment upkeep, training, auditing, quality checks and other important tasks to be postponed or even ignored in the face of task saturation or trying to ensure on-time delivery. Additionally, most people find themselves so busy working in the process that they are never able to identify time to work on it. Technology provides the opportunity to eliminate these non-value-added and time-consuming tasks. This time can then be invested in enabling team members to focus on the upkeep, control and improvement of product or process.

Within the company, the leadership team will want to invest in improving the skillsets of their team members. In some instances, the implementation of technology will create the need for new positions to install, operate and maintain it. Support and mentoring will also need to be provided for the workforce to be able to capably adopt and utilize these technologies. More importantly, the goal is to elevate the work force from mere process operators to creative process improvers. This may require additional training and skills that may not have been provided to front-line positions within the organization. Skills like root cause analysis, lean tools, and process improvement will be needed in the advanced manufacturing environment.

On a larger scale, businesses will need to partner with local educational entities to promote interest and training on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills for our future workforce. The mismatch in demand versus supply of these abilities is already creating many employment gaps. Studies show that there will be roughly one million programming jobs unfilled by the year 2020. The construction industry anticipates around the same number of positions available in that same timeframe. And the benefit isn’t just in those industries or simply with jobs involving STEM skills. Studies also estimate that for every STEM-related job created, 4.3 jobs in local goods and services industries are generated.

If businesses choose to ignore their elephants or gorillas (or lions or tigers or bears – oh my), one thing is certain: others will collect on the opportunities these new technologies provide and become dominant in their fields. But if you engage now and employ those assistive technologies that make good business sense for you, your company will not only achieve success for the business but provide greater job satisfaction for the teams. You also will help pave the way for the workforce of the future.

To learn more about how Industry 4.0 technologies can work with your company rather than against it, come to The Center's free Industry 4.0 EXPLORE event on May 10 from 8:30am to 10:30am.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Revenue Going Up, Profits Going… Down?

By: George Singos

Your company is working harder than ever before, with higher sales and faster production leading to the largest increase in revenue you’ve seen so far. Yet somehow profits are less than they were last year. How could this be?

This is a common tale among manufacturers. While revenue experiences a huge boost, net profits remain stagnant or nosedive. The potential issues driving this imbalance are endless, with anything from improper planning, constant schedule bumping or steep overhead costs often holding profits back. Regardless of the reason, net profits are not as high as they could be.

Fortunately, there are many ways to get profits back where they should be. One such method is to focus on increasing gross margin by substantially reducing the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). If done effectively, this transformation can eliminate major costs within your operations, resulting in higher profits than you previously thought possible.

Which Costs to Cut: The Biggest Offenders
With so many expense areas available to target, this wide opportunity for improvement may leave you wondering, “Which areas should I target first?” or “What should I focus on to get the biggest returns?”

When it comes to cutting your COGS, here are five of the best areas to target to ensure your company sees an increase in profits:
  • Estimated vs. Actual COGS. Are you meeting your estimated COGS? Or are your predicted COGS simply impossible to meet in the first place? This variance in budget could be the source of some major losses in your net profits.
  • Schedule Bumping. Changes in your schedule should be kept to a minimum. Constantly being interrupted in the middle of a project or task with a new task to complete, whether it takes two minutes or two hours, can immensely impact productivity and decrease value added. The associated costs with this consistent starting and stopping of work can be substantial.
  • Changeover. Lengthy changeover times are often contributors to decreased productivity and production. Are your changeovers as effective and fast as they could be? It is worth analyzing your changeover processes to ensure they are not a source of excessive costs.
  • Scrap and Rework. Another large contributor to waste and slower production is scrap and rework. Failure to fully capture scrap and measure rework can result in budget issues. With these aspects under control, some variations in profit can be resolved. 
  • Direct and Non-Direct Labor. Are your operators being set up for success? It should be a priority of non-direct employees to support all direct labor (operators) within your organization. Get them the assistance and help necessary from other workers to ensure they can add as much value to production as possible and maximize productivity – and profits. 
It is possible for any manufacturer to increase both revenue and net profit by targeting areas such as these and improving business operations. Use these tips to help your company reach its full potential and get the profits you should be yielding.

For a first-hand look at how to boost profitability for your company, register for a free Strategic Planning workshop at The Center. See our upcoming line-up of workshops here.


MEET OUR EXPERT
George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.





Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What A Good Boss Does (According to a 4-Year-Old)

By: Charlie Westra

It can be hard to pin down exactly what a good boss does, and even more difficult to become one. For most managers, this is an ongoing process of learning from others and evolving in the hopes of becoming a true leader. But maybe this journey of growing into a great boss isn’t as complicated as you think. Perhaps it’s so simple that even a small child knows what a good boss should be doing.

For those of you who have kids, this scenario will be easy to picture. When my son Carter was four years old, our bedtime routine consisted of reading two books in the hopes that he would finally calm down enough to get to sleep. One night during this routine, while Carter was jumping around his room cleaning up toys and trying to pick out a book (read: delaying sleep), he started the following conversation:

Carter: “Daddy, you have a new boss.”

Me: “Who’s that?”

Carter: “Mommy.”

Me: “That’s interesting… Hey Carter, what does a boss do?”

I laughed a little, anticipating a response having to do with bossing around or yelling.

Carter: “A boss protects you.”

This answer caught me by surprise – and gave me goose bumps because it was so profound. I wanted to hear more.

Me: “What else does a boss do?”

Carter: “A boss helps you.”

What?! Helps me? This was particularly shocking to me, as I have had many bosses (if not all) who never did anything to help me.

Me: “Wow, they help you? What else does a boss do?”

Carter: (Whispering) “Buys you Star Wars toys…"

This answer wasn’t as surprising.

While this is a funny story, it contains a serious lesson about what a good boss – and leader – should be doing to effectively lead their team.

Do you protect your employees? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified “Management Loyalty to Workers” as a top 10 desire of employees at every level of an organization. Do you back up your employees? Do you support their decisions and show them how to learn from their mistakes?

Do you help your employees? As leaders, we are responsible for helping those in our team. A common mistake made by many bosses is thinking their success alone dictates the team’s success. It is only by removing roadblocks to an employee’s success that the team can be as effective as it should be. An effective team must go out of their way to help each other succeed.

Do you know what your employees’ Star Wars toys are? Yes, this one applies too. Find what motivates your team. It may be expressing a simple thank you, or getting to know someone personally, or including them in shop-related decisions. Find out what motivates each individual team member and, if it’s within your power to provide, do it.

Sometime in our lives, each of us had a person who took the time to get to know us, gave us opportunity and picked us up when we made mistakes. Everyone has somebody – whether it’s a family member, teacher, coach, boy/girl scout leader, military officer or church leader; we can see their faces, we remember their names. There is no reason why, 10 years from now, you cannot be the face someone remembers as their respected leader. All it takes is helping, protecting and, finally, Star Wars toys.

Want more tips for becoming a great leader? Register for my upcoming webinar, The Journey to Great Leadership Starts with You, on May 22 from 12pm-1pm. Read more here.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Charlie Westra
Growth Services Program Manager

As the Growth Services Program Manager at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center), Charlie’s expertise spans many areas. In his role, Charlie is responsible for developing organizational growth strategies, providing management consulting, and building effective teams. Specializing in improving employee engagement with supervisory skills and leadership development, Charlie works collectively and individually with management and sales teams to develop customized workplace tools to fit specific needs and goals. His mission is to assist companies in producing sustainable, positive results.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Struggling to Embrace Lean Culture? Here’s Why.

By: Mike Beels

People don’t like change. Learning new ways of doing things and adopting new technology can be a scary proposition. I often have clients ask, “Why do we need to change, we are already working hard?” or, “We are already profitable, why change?” The unfortunate answer is that you cannot avoid change; everything changes over time. Instead of avoiding change out of fear or stubbornness, you must embrace it if you want to keep improving.

Remember when eight-track players were first created, totally revolutionizing the way we listened to music in our cars? What could be better than listening to your favorite music whenever you wanted, instead of waiting for it to come on the radio. We thought it was the peak of individualized listening. Then came cassettes. Then CDs, then MP3s, and now we have Sirius radio and Spotify. What’s next? Only the future knows.

Neglecting to use Spotify may not be as detrimental as neglecting to incorporate changes in your facility, but the point remains the same: you must be able to embrace change. If not, you could be committing professional suicide. In his program titled “The Business of Paradigms,” Joel Barker, a technology and business futurist and the bestselling author, speaks to the fear of making changes in business. His message reminds viewers that even if they are already the leader in their market, someone else can find a better, newer way to produce X at any moment, quickly taking over their spot at the top. If you want to improve your service and remain competitive, innovation is necessary.

Make It Count: 3 Ways to Ensure Change is Successful
Following this initial, monumental step of deciding to change, leaders must then figure out how to incorporate and implement change within their facilities. All change begins and ends with employee support, making employees an integral role in the success of your transformation. When starting any new initiative, first ask yourself the question, “How can I make my employees see the need for change?” Let’s explore the answer to this question by looking at the example of how to successfully transition to a lean culture.

Although there is no magic dust or silver bullet to instantly transform the culture, there are several key elements that can help make this transition effective.
  1. Leadership is one of the keys to a successful culture transition. Those leading an organization must provide full support to a lean transformation, as they are in charge of commanding the resources. Leaders should be completely committed to this change. If employees can see that it is not a priority for leaders, they will not make it a priority for themselves. Additionally, leaders must commit to this change for the right reasons, not just because “lean” is the latest buzzword or because a customer asked them to do it. 
  2. Communication is another key. Effective communication requires more than an occasional meeting or speech. Nearly every organization tells me, “We don’t communicate!” Between functional silos (engineering, quality, manufacturing, etc.), between departments, between shifts, between hourly and salary employees, there is little to no communication. Lack of sufficient communication among employees and departments will quickly lead to the downfall of a lean culture change. You must communicate why the change is important and, more specifically, how it will affect each worker. If you simply make changes on the shop floor without including all departments in the loop, you will be met with resistance. Employees need to be tuned in to W.I.I.F.M. (What’s In It For Me?) to truly understand and support the need for change. Five-minute stand up meetings and town hall meetings are two commonly used venues for communicating, and each is highly effective. Five-minute stand ups will often include what happened yesterday, what is expected today and what operators need for the future. Town hall meetings are more than just a slideshow on the state of the business. If done correctly, these gatherings not only provide employees with key information, but also provide them the opportunity to bring up issues or questions they have. 
  3. Training is an important aspect that cannot be forgotten. I have witnessed organizations completely fail in their lean transitions because they did not provide lean training for everyone in the organization. Basic training in lean methodologies is necessary for all workers, and should eventually be made part of orientation for new employees. Additionally, as employees begin to participate in kaizen events, more in-depth training will be necessary. For instance, if the kaizen charter called for an event featuring 5S and Visual Management or Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), the participants would need to be trained specifically in those disciplines to be successful.
When considering the move to a leaner environment, you must first ask yourself if your organization is ready to provide the leadership, communication and training necessary. Only then will your organization truly be able to realize success in adapting to change.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Mike Beels
Lean Program Manager

Mike Beels has served in the role of Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. Mike’s areas of expertise include Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and Succession Planning, as well as the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. He is a professional trainer and has the ability to command an audience and deliver the training message in a way that participants can understand in a clear, non-threatening manner. Mike always leaves trainees excited and ready to complete training transfer to the shop floor or office.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Manufacturing Education Gets a Face-Lift with LIFT

By: Elliot Forsyth

There’s no question that one of the biggest concerns we hear from our clients is finding and keeping good employees. Unfortunately, this situation is likely to only get worse. In the next decade, it is expected that of the nearly 3.5 million open U.S. manufacturing jobs, roughly 2 million are anticipated to go unfilled due to a gap in skills required for holding such jobs. In other words, students and workers today are not prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

To address this gap, a number of organizations are stepping forward to target the root of the problem: lack of proper education. These groups have begun focusing their efforts on assisting colleges and high schools with how to better align curricula with the needs of the industry workforce. One such organization is Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), a Detroit-based Manufacturing USA Institute that works to develop and deploy advanced lightweight materials manufacturing technologies, as well as implement training programs to prepare students for the modern industry landscape. The goal in developing this training is to prevent the skills gap from growing larger by building workforce strategies and knowledge around new lightweighting technologies.

As lightweighting continues to grow in the manufacturing world, it is important to teach the next generation about the uses, development and science behind such innovations. This need is what drove LIFT, along with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), to establish an Expert Educator Team (EET). The EET is a group of college and university faculty members, all of whom have years of experience and expertise in both materials science and education and workforce preparation. Drawing from this knowledge, the EET works to gather insight and recommend changes or additions to college courses to better target the skills gap and prepare workers for current manufacturing job requirements.

Real Solutions to a Real Problem
What does this look like in reality? The EET is in the process of publishing a series of six reports with comprehensive recommendations for how teachers and professors can modify their curricula to better reflect the knowledge and skills needed for manufacturing jobs dealing with lightweighting technologies, materials and processes. The first and second reports have already been published, which urge educators to focus on developing students’ skills in areas including thin-wall ductile iron castings, powder consolidation processes and agile sheet metal fabrication. These reports include detailed recommendations for what to cover in future training, as well as sources of further learning, including online videos and webinars.

Another source for further learning is the Learning Hub, a joint effort created by LIFT and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). This resource provides the first nationally relevant, open source online library of lightweighting and composites-related educational materials to be used by educators and students at all levels.

In addition to supporting current students, LIFT also works to help future veterans find civilian careers through Operation Next. This initiative seeks to provide military personnel with high-level training for the most in-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing to ensure their job search is as smooth and easy as possible. This is accomplished through a combination of self-directed virtual learning and hands-on lab work.

Preparing the future workforce for modern manufacturing will be an ongoing challenge, and organizations and initiatives such as these are important components that can have a beneficial impact and help the industry thrive in a global marketplace.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.



Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Seeing is Believing with Value Stream Mapping

By: Roger Tomlinson

With all of the moving parts within a manufacturing business (both literal and figurative), it’s easy to lose sight of strategic objectives. What if your management team had a way to actually see all of the goals and processes of your entire organization in one clear visual? Fortunately, value stream mapping provides just such a solution.

This Lean method of management comes from the idea that every process, product and service has a value stream – the chain of activities involved in completing a given task. This activity stream forms the basis for creating a visual map tool, which encompasses all the steps, decisions and people involved in a specific process. By laying out actions in this way, value stream mapping can be used to effectively deploy and monitor your assets and activities.

One type of such mapping is swim lane process mapping, a technique ideal for tracking goal progress and identifying responsibilities at every step of a process. This is accomplished by creating a visual structure that tracks workflow along with the people, places and things that impact it.

Swim lane maps begin with establishing and listing all tasks and sub-processes involved in a particular project, including all decision-making that might affect the workflow. Each “swim” lane then represents a different department to better distinguish and divide capabilities, roles and responsibilities present in all process steps.

The actual labelling of the lanes can be accomplished in a number of ways, with both vertical and horizontal lines included in the visual tool. For example, vertical lanes may represent a sequence of events, while horizontal lanes could depict which department, person or material is involved in an activity, with symbols to show how the actual process workflow takes place.

Once all of this is properly arranged and labelled, the map is used to analyze all steps of the process and categorize them as value added, non-value added, or necessary non-value added. Following this determination, non-value-added steps can be eliminated, and necessary non-value-added steps can be minimized. Laying out the steps in this way can help to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, inefficiencies and redundancies, leading to a faster and more productive workflow.

Swim lane mapping brings issues to the surface that you may not have previously noticed, raising new opportunities for improvement along the way. This seemingly simple management method accomplishes these complicated tasks through:
  1. Guiding processes. Swim lane diagrams provide a comprehensive visual reference tool that allows anyone to easily answer questions such as, “what happens next?” or “who is responsible for this task?” This mapping technique provides a level of operational transparency and accountability that is not otherwise easily achieved.
  2. Encouraging effective communication between process roles. Whether it’s improving production times, installing a new computer system or onboarding new hires, swim lane maps clearly determine areas of responsibility and display how all tasks depend on each other to be completed. This encourages collaboration and communication among departments to ensure all steps are completed effectively and on time.
  3. Identifying each team’s responsibility. This is important for both current and future initiatives. Responsibilities covered in process maps should include every organizational unit involved in a given activity along with any source of input, such as documents, data or approvals, as well as anyone receiving an output from the process.
  4. Providing flexibility. When creating your own swim lane map, you can choose which elements and symbols to include based on your company’s needs and activities. In addition to the standard “start,” “step,” “decision” and “end” symbols, various levels of complexity can be introduced to the map to provide overviews or specific details, and symbols representing outside data, documents or events can be incorporated.
  5. Anticipating future changes. Once areas of improvement are identified through the map, team members can brainstorm ways to address each issue and implement changes. The process does not end there, however, as swim lane maps also can help map out proposed changes to identify potential risks and rewards ahead of time.
This visual management tool can give your company the ability to identify issues and opportunities for improvement that you did not previously know existed, or did not believe to be real problems. With value stream mapping, seeing really is believing.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.



Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Got Powder Metallurgy? Get This…

By: Gregg Peterson

We recently published a blog post detailing the many resources- 114, to be exact- available for manufacturers of all kinds to take advantage of. These resources included anything from websites to publications to blogs to books. But what about something more long-term? Something that you can contribute to and continue to draw resources from? And gain access to exclusive networking opportunities?

Countless established organizations in the manufacturing world exist to deliver these unique benefits to members. One such organization is the Center for Powder Metallurgy Technology (CPMT).

CPMT was originally developed by the United States Department of Commerce as part of a series of cooperative technology programs, with the ultimate goal of promoting the progress of the powder metallurgy industry. With members from across the nation, CPMT continues to conduct research on the latest practices involving this sector of the manufacturing industry. But what exactly does this organization provide to its members? Manufacturers interested in supporting the growth of the powder metallurgy industry can receive the following benefits from joining CPMT:
  1. Participate in Technology Focus Meetings, sponsored by CPMT, as well as access archived Technology Focus presentations. 
  2. Contribute to discussions about certain activities happening at CPMT, such as training programs.
  3. Vote and serve on CPMT’s Board of Trustees. Gain a first-hand look and have a say in how CPMT awards its scholarships and grants, develops its training and conducts its research on the industry.
  4. Network! Current members of CPMT include everyone from end users to manufacturers to powder/equipment providers, including big name companies such as Eaton Corporation, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, John Deere Technology Center and General Motors Corporation.
  5. Receive periodic research reports. CPMT is constantly funding and conducting new research projects to benefit and further support the powder metallurgy industry. Members can gain direct access to past and current project findings to help educate their practices and operations. Overviews of current and past projects can be found on their website, which include:
    • Fatigue testing to investigate the strain-controlled, low-cycle axial fatigue response of steel and aluminum powder metallurgy steel materials and process conditions. CPMT expects to continue gathering data on this topic for several years.
    • Resonant acoustical mixing testing, which involves preparing a variety of high performance mixes using acoustical mixing technology. Samples will be evaluated and compared with traditional mixing techniques. Compacted test specimens also will be evaluated in the green and sintered condition for improved microstructural uniformity and mechanical properties. 
    • Sinter hardening improvement. In this research project, different sintering tray/plate materials will be evaluated to compare microstructure and dimensional stability of powder metallurgy parts during the sinter hardening process. The plate materials involved will be ceramic vs. carbon/carbon fiber.
If all of these benefits sound interesting to you, become a member of the Center for Powder Metallurgy  today and join me at the upcoming spring meeting (members only) from April 17-18 in Detroit to connect with leaders in the powder metallurgy industry and gain access to the exclusive resources this organization provides.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Gregg Peterson
Principal Materials Engineer

As an accomplished engineer, inventor, mentor of emerging talent and successful entrepreneur, Gregg brings an impressive array of expertise and enthusiasm to every endeavor he pursues. In his current role, Gregg works on-site at the Detroit headquarters of Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) as part of a program to propel the use of lightweight materials in manufacturing. Gregg’s OEM and Tier 1 automotive engineering experience spans more than 30 years and includes extensive ferrous and non-ferrous body structure design and innovation, aerodynamics, software controls, manufacturing/processing and more.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.